Monday, February 27, 2012

Cow World Hay-Day

Hello friends, farmers, and eaters far and wide!

There's much to catch up on for the last couple of months.   Life on the farm is good, but what has gotten us this far, you might wonder?

On the Cow Front: 
These days I say the cows are all Home on the Range.  We had many many round bales out in the back field that we didn't bring into the barn before winter, so rather than the traditional New England winter cow plan (cows live in barn, humans feed hay, humans bring water, humans shovel endless piles of manure), we set up an electric fence around the whole back field, including a bit of a stream and some woods, and the cows are all out there together running around, eating, drinking, and spreading their own darn manure.  Sometimes we walk out there and when we arrive not a single bovine meets the eye.  Soon though, we see them plowing out of the undergrowth from their safe haven from wind and snow among the trees.  There's something a little out-of-the-ordinary about seeing cows roaming in a forest, but they seem to like it a lot and the Holsteins have gotten a taste for pine needles.  And when they are out in the field, they find themselves in a cow all-you-can-eat buffet (if all you want to eat is hay), and when they get bored they can charge the bales and beat them to a pulp, which is better than when they're cooped up in a barn and usually end up taking out their cabin fever on each other.  It seems to be a system well-suited to this winter of very little snow.

While Seth, Ada and I were away, the cows were busy multiplying (not sexually, though, that we know of).  Our friend and helper from winter 2010-2011, Graham, moved his cows to our farm.  His crew consists of Jerry, a Guernsey oxen, Buddy and Pal, a team of milking shorthorns, and two Holstein steers.  Tyler then purchased three black Angus: a steer, a young heifer, and a bred heifer.  Then he went and bought two bred Canadian Jerseys--determined by ultrasound to be due late March, and to be pregnant with girls--who joined the herd a week and a half ago.  Well, much to our surprise, one of the new Jerseys delivered a healthy bull calf yesterday.  Not what we expected, but not too bad either!  We now have twenty-five cows on the hoof and about seven in utero.

On the People Front:
Ada, Seth and I drove south mid-January, spent a couple weeks with my lovely family in Chapel Hill, NC; drove to Liberty, SC to buy an old, small and rust-less Toyota pick-up; spent a week in Celo, NC with friends and then Seth headed down to be with family in Alabama and Atlanta while Ada and I took a leisurely drive north with my sister, Mary Kate, an able and witty driving companion.  Seth made it back here the day after I did, after driving 22 hours in two days.  We landed back in our new house and have been so pleased to return to our beautiful, bountiful home.

Less than a week after we returned, Tyler and Elsie headed out on a whirlwind tour of northeastern farms that use horsepower or that otherwise piqued their interest.  They checked out Greyrock Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Natural Roots in Conway, MA; Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon, NY and others.  I am pleased to report Tyler and Elsie did not defect to any of these other exciting and innovative places but returned to their sweet little home in Monroe to keep at the hard work of starting up a diversified operation on a previously neglected farm. 

Sometimes it can be challenging to keep a perspective on the extent to which we are pushing ourselves, but I think that going away every once in a while--whether to see other farms or other families--helps us to both farm better and live better.  When friends would ask us, on our travels, what we were doing on the farm, we'd barely start to answer before they would start look at us like we were crazy.  So, in case you are wondering what we're doing, here's the quick run-down of what comes to mind right now:
Cows: Milking seven cows in summer 2012 to supply a local cheesemaker.  Raising three cows to slaughter this fall.  Bottle-feeding six calves.  Making hay to keep all thirty-two cows plus sheep and draft horses fed through winter 2012-2013.
Pigs: Raising one pig for slaughter this spring.  Raising two or three pigs for slaughter late fall.
Vegetables:  Growing storage crops for fifty winter CSA shares and one or two winter farmers' markets, using only horses and hand-power.  Growing vegetables to keep us all nourished through the summer.  Plowing another couple acres to rotate into vegetables after cover-cropping.  Setting up an irrigation system.  Becoming USDA Organic.
Fruit: Erecting an orchard fence 2800' long and eight feet high.  Cutting 250 cedar posts for the fence.  Planting a four-acre apple orchard.  Keeping one acre of high bush blueberries cultivated and mulched.  Grafting 5000 young fruit trees and planting them in the nursery.
Sheep: Seven ewes pregnant, due with 14 lambs this spring to raise for meat and fiber.  Expecting to have a breeding flock of twelve to fourteen in 2013.
Infrastructure: Milling lumber to build a 32'x80' pole barn to house horse equipment and our sawmill.  Finishing the roof on the barn and milkroom.  Getting cedar shingle siding on the barn and the new house.  Digging a small pond to irrigate vegetables.  Many, many other projects too numerous to list.

And, not least of all, taking care of each other, having fun, scheming & dreaming, cultivating good relationships with our significant others, playing music, singing, and raising our young ones with love and playfulness!

Ada rebelling happily against her momma's wishes at the tender age of 16 months.  Pantsless in the snow, AGAIN!

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